The Gown
15 Jan, 2019

The Gown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading

The Gown

The Gown The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson
on December 31, 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

Goodreads

I love historical fiction that pulls you in from the beginning. This is the story of two women from very different backgrounds who meet in the embroidery workshop of a dress designer in London immediately after World War II.

Ann is English. She lost her parents before the war and her brother during the Blitz.  She lives with her sister-in-law, trying to scrape by.

Miriam is a French Jew who was in a concentration camp for part of the war.  No one in England knows about this part of her life.  All they know is that she is a skilled embroiderer who worked in a design house in Paris. 

Fast forward to 2016 and a woman in Toronto gets a box of pictures and embroidery from her recently deceased grandmother.  She knew her grandmother was from England but she never talked about her life there.  She also didn’t know how to sew as far as her granddaughter knew.  Why does she have all this?

This is a great story of female friendship and support.  It also shows you the amazing amount of handwork that goes into couture dresses.  I like stories based on unknown women who have had a part, however small, in historical events. 

I had never really looked at the dress before.  It is so detailed with both embroidery and applique.  I can’t imagine doing that day in and day out.  (I hurt my hands just trying to hand sew one quilt.)  They only had a few weeks to get that all finished.  It is amazing. 


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Natalie Brown/Tangerine Photo

About Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.

Find out more about Jennifer at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

 

Blog Tour

Monday, December 31st: Instagram: @ladyofthelibrary

Monday, December 31st: Reading Reality

Wednesday, January 2nd: Instagram: @my_book_journey_

Wednesday, January 2nd: 5 Minutes For Books

Thursday, January 3rd: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books

Friday, January 4th: Into the Hall of Books

Monday, January 7th: BookNAround

Monday, January 7th: InkyMoments

Tuesday, January 8th: Jessicamap Reviews

Wednesday, January 9th: Instagram: @giuliland

Thursday, January 10th: A Chick Who Reads

Monday, January 14th: Instagram: @ciannereads

Tuesday, January 15th: Instagram: @sjwonderlandz

Tuesday, January 15th: Based on a True Story

Wednesday, January 16th: Always With a Book

Wednesday, January 16th: Instagram: @tbretc

Thursday, January 17th: Instagram: @somekindofalibrary

Thursday, January 17th: Doing Dewey

Thursday, January 17th: Instagram: @theunreadshelf

Friday, January 18th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, January 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life

Friday, January 25th: As I turn the pages

 

12 Jan, 2018

Family Tree

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Family Tree Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
on January 9th 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Vermont

Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.
Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

Goodreads

I chose to read this book because of the mystery surrounding her grandmother’s old cookbook. I wanted to see how it saved the family farm. You know, “living well is the best revenge” and all that.

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This book is told in alternating time lines. In the present timeline, Annie has had an accident that put her in a coma. She’s been moved to back to her hometown in Vermont. She wakes up not remembering much about her previous life.

In the flashbacks, you get the story of her growing up on the farm and falling in love with the new kid in town. Then you find out how she became the producer of a hit TV cooking show and met her husband.

I found myself getting bored with the flashbacks. I was much more interested in her current situation than with how she got here. I was glad when the storylines converged and it was all in the present.

 

How was the foodie content?

  • You get the basics of how maple syrup is made
  • You get a brief look at distilling whisky
  • She did run a successful cooking show
  • She really likes to cook

But what about the mysterious cookbook that saves the farm?  That gets into spoiler territory so I recorded some spoiler-full observations about the book if you are interested.

 

I would recommend this book to people who like romances with former partners. If you are most interested in the food portions of the book you might be a bit disappointed because it doesn’t play as major of a role as I would have thought.

02 Aug, 2017

The Dress in the Window

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Dress in the Window The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant
on July 25th 2017
Pages: 384
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Pennsylvania

World War II has ended and American women are shedding their old clothes for the gorgeous new styles. Voluminous layers of taffeta and tulle, wasp waists, and beautiful color—all so welcome after years of sensible styles and strict rationing.
Jeanne Brink and her sister Peggy both had to weather every tragedy the war had to offer—Peggy now a widowed mother, Jeanne without the fiancé she’d counted on, both living with Peggy’s mother-in-law in a grim mill town. But despite their grey pasts they long for a bright future—Jeanne by creating stunning dresses for her clients with the help of her sister Peggy’s brilliant sketches.
Together, they combine forces to create amazing fashions and a more prosperous life than they’d ever dreamed of before the war. But sisterly love can sometimes turn into sibling jealousy. Always playing second fiddle to her sister, Peggy yearns to make her own mark. But as they soon discover, the future is never without its surprises, ones that have the potential to make—or break—their dreams.

Goodreads

None of the women in this story expected to live a life without their men.  Now, after World War II, they are trying to adapt to what their lives have become. 

Jeanne is a talented seamstress but making knock off dresses for rich women in her small town isn’t enough to make ends meet.  Peggy is a good designer but with a small daughter she needs to find a way to make money.  Thelma is Peggy’s mother in law.  She owns the house they live in and is barely keeping them afloat.

Thelma was my favorite character in this book.  She is portrayed as the matriarch but she is only in her mid-40s.  She has a lot of secrets including lovers who will still do her some favors as the need arises.  She is smart but always underestimated due to her gender and socioeconomic condition.  She comes up with a plan to help them all based on secrets, blackmail, and her talents. 

This is a good look at life for women who were forced to grow up quickly because of war.  Peggy has a child that she probably wouldn’t have had so young if not for the war making things feel urgent.  Jeanne is concerned about being a spinster forever because of the lack of men. 

Overall, this is a grim book.  Times were tough and the women had to be even tougher to get through it. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
23 Dec, 2016

Hidden Figures

/ posted in: Reading Hidden Figures Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
on December 6th 2016
Pages: 368
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

“Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.”


In the 1940s airplanes were being studied in Virginia. Wind tunnels were built to evaluate minute changes in plane design in an effort to help win WWII. Large amounts of data were being collected. In order to process the numbers female mathematicians called computers where hired do crunch the numbers. Because Virginia was a segregated state, the women were kept in two areas. The East Computers were white and the West Computers were black.

A job as a computer was a step up for women with advanced degrees whose only hope for a job before this was teaching. This book covers the years from World War II to the beginning of the space age when Langley’s operations moved to Houston.

The author’s father had worked at Langley. The author grew up knowing several of the women but did not realize what they had done for space research. Most of the women were uncredited although several managed to get papers published over the years.

Eventually, women were absorbed into the labs that they had been supporting and the East and West Computer sections shut down. As machines became able to calculate faster than they could, they had to adapt to survive. Some moved more into research. Others became computer programmers to teach the machines the jobs that they previously did.

Among the women’s contributions were:

  • Calculating the time and location for a rocket to take off in order to have the capsule splash down near the Navy ships waiting to rescue the astronaut.
  • Calculating all the variables involved in getting the lunar landing module off the moon and able to meet up with the orbiting ship for the return to Earth.
  • Imagining the need for and then designing response scenarios for a systems malfunction like what happened on Apollo 13.

The scientific achievements of the black women profiled in this book were set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination that they faced when they weren’t at work.  A good companion book to this would be Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County about the shut down of all schools by a county that did not want to integrate them. Many of these very educated women were from this area and/or had families affected by the shut down of the schools.

I enjoyed this book.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie also even though it appears that it will be focusing mostly on the John Glenn orbital flight.  Read the book to find out the whole story.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon
| Barnes & Noble

tlc_logo

 

About Margot Lee Shetterly

margot-lee-shetterly-ap-photo-by-aran-shetterly Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the
women in Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the
recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on
women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Find out more about Margot at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

29 Jun, 2016

How To Eat a Cupcake

/ posted in: Reading How To Eat a Cupcake How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue
on March 13th 2012
Pages: 309
Genres: Fiction
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in California
Goodreads

“Funny, free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated, ambitious Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clair’s housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia’s San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls who know nothing of class differences and scholarships could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.

A decade later, Annie is now a talented, if underpaid, pastry chef who bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother’s death. Julia, a successful businesswoman, is tormented by a painful secret that could jeopardize her engagement to the man she loves. When a chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, they must overcome past hurts and a mysterious saboteur or risk losing their fledgling business and any chance of healing their fractured friendship.”


There is a lot going on in this book.  There is a relationship between Annie and Julia.  There is the mystery of the vandalism.  There is tension between Julia and her fiance.  Annie is trying to find a recipe book of her mother’s.  It is a bit too much taken all together.  What stuck with me was this:

This book is the story of two people who were raised together but who see the world completely differently because of their racial and class backgrounds.

Annie is Hispanic and working class.  She lived in an upper class world but never was allowed to forget that she was the daughter of a servant.

Julia is white and upper class.  She can’t understand why Annie is still bitter from her experiences in high school.  She hasn’t thought about that in years.

Julia is looking for a diversion for a year and offers Annie the chance to open her dream bakery.  Despite her reservations Annie agrees because this is the only way she will ever receive funding.  They can’t even agree on where to open it.  Annie insists on the Mission but Julia is convinced that is a dangerous, lower class area.  When the bakery is vandalized repeatedly during construction it seems like Julia may have been right.

 


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